How the Asian Golden Hour Dawned

6 minute read
Chen is an impact founder and investor as CEO and Co-Founder of Gold House, the leading cultural ecosystem uniting, championing, and investing in Asian Pacific creators and companies. Previously, he was a principal architect of YouTube's multi-billion dollar creator ecosystem.
Tran is COO and Co-Founder of Gold House. Previously, he was an attorney at O'Melveny & Myers and is a Harvard Law and Harvard College graduate.

Growing up a Third Culture kid between Dolly Parton’s Knoxville, Tenn., late-90s Shanghai, and 2000s Southern California engineers a unique loneliness. After all, when you belong to so many places, do you belong anywhere? But as my single mother once said: When you can’t come home, you build your own.

Like all minorities, the Asian Pacific diaspora is perennially hyphenated. We’re tugged between the nations of our ancestors and our present; we contend with simultaneous incongruities that prevent us from self-realization and collective coordination. Executives who break the “bamboo ceiling”—Asians are the least likely demographic to be promoted to management, according to Harvard Business Review—face imposter syndrome. And if they’re able to regain their confidence, many worry that they’re perpetuating the Model Minority Myth that overshadows income disparities within our community—and furthers our own divides with other marginalized groups. Our multilingual upbringings foreignize us; adopting certain Western behaviors can deny critical elements of our own heritage, something some demonize as a Sunken Place. Within our own community, our dozens of ethnicities, hundreds of dialects, and lack of a universal story or struggle further our fracture.

Yet, despite our ostensive misalignment and our continued need to combat hate aimed at Asian Pacific communities, our diaspora has seen a golden wave of cultural and economic progress—that has broken records and defined industries in short order. May 1st marks the beginning of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. Each year, to spotlight the Asian Pacific diaspora’s most impactful societal contributions, Gold House releases the A100—our own TIME100. This year, journalist Alex Wagner, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan, actor Ke Huy Quan, fashion designer Anna Sui, and baseball player Shohei Ohtani all made the list, which covers industries ranging from politics to business to entertainment to fashion to sports.

This is our 6th year publishing this list. And with so many Asian Pacific leaders in prominent positions around the world, it’s never been harder to winnow the 100. Put simply: we’re in the midst of a golden hour. But how? Why did this happen, seemingly, within only the last few years?

Population growth contributes. Our diaspora in the United States nearly doubled between 2000 and 2019—and buying power has, similarly, skyrocketed by 127% from 2000 to 2020. But a powerful population doesn’t ensure concentrated change. Research by Gold House in 2018 with 500 of the top Asian Pacific leaders across business, culture, and activism indicated a universal prioritization of four core challenges—with the first being enhancing how the media portrayed us (or didn’t at all). As they say, seeing is believing.

Media representation became the unifying battleground through Crazy Rich Asians, the first Asian-led major studio project in 25 years. In 2018, many studio executives did not believe that Asians were a viable market—partly due to our 7% domestic population at the time. But by adapting successful galvanization models by Black churches in the late 80s and from women in the 2000s, several industry leaders jumpstarted Jon M. Chu’s critically-lauded romantic comedy with a promotional engine now known as #GoldOpen, using theater buyouts and other viral tactics to guarantee that Crazy Rich Asians was a hit at the box office. Since then, #GoldOpen has ensured the opening weekend success of more than two dozen Asian-led films including, most recently, Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Prioritizing market viability isn’t new. Creators can come from anywhere but haven’t always been able to go everywhere. Marketing has always been half the battle—most easily evidenced by its percentage of total theatrical release budgets. YouTube was and continues to be the bastion for minority creators to reach the mainstream. In 2010, for instance, 25% of YouTube’s top categories were Asian-led; accessible bandwidth and ubiquitous smart device distribution gave permission to niche creation. Beyond YouTube, a recent study conducted by Nielsen and Gold House indicated that streaming platforms like Netflix have twice the AANHPIs of broadcast programs. And, of course, there’s K-pop, whose listening share grew 65% annually since 2015 on Spotify and Apple Music and even more during the pandemic.

Alongside demonstrative distribution, the Asian Pacific diaspora won the ability to influence storytelling upstream. Through increased budgets for inclusive content development and production as well as cultural consultation practices that dismantle pernicious stereotypes, more authentic projects have flourished. This inclusive influence has accelerated due to executive greenlighting power. From Netflix (the platform’s Chief Content and Marketing Officers are Asian women—Bela Bajaria and Marian Lee Dicus) to a legion of studio chiefs including Albert Cheng of Amazon Prime Video, Asad Ayaz and Nancy Lee of Disney, Ramsey Naito of Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation, and Agnes Chu of Condé Nast Entertainment, diverse leaders have demonstrated the power and imperative of inclusive crews, casts, and colleagues for all marginalized communities. Super producers like AUM Group and Significant Productions’ Nina Yang Bongiovi utilize their own outfits for enabling multicultural filmmakers who don’t just create great art—but great art that challenges societal canon. At conglomerates like CJ, leaders like Vice Chair Miky Lee and ENM Chief Global Officer Steve Chung and Kakao’s recent majority stake in SM (creating the largest non-Western-based music label) continue to leverage inclusion and cultural specificity to commercial and critical acclaim around the world. When you don’t have a seat at the table, you don’t just shatter that room’s ceiling; you build your own house and bring everyone in.

Finally, the diversification of voting bodies to include younger, even more diverse voters—like The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences currently helmed by President Janet Yang—has enabled films like Everything Everywhere All At Once to become the most-awarded film in history. While shiny awards may be met with ambivalence, the uptick in consumption of Academy Award-recognized films indicates that distillation for the masses is essential to break through a noisy world.

As voted on by the top Asian Pacific nonprofits and our community’s foremost leaders, the A100 is the definitive recognition for our community’s cultural contributions. Each year, we’re often asked: are there even 100 top AANHPIs to recognize? There have always been worthy AANHPIs. Now the world is actually seeing them.

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